The greater good fallacy is a way people try to argue a point of action that it is best for the collective for the individual to conform. This logical fallacy is common in both political and personal conversations. The Greater Good Fallacy is related to the topic of altruism.
The Greater Good Fallacy says that the individual ought to desire or act for what is best for the collective, as opposed to what is good solely for him or herself. This idea also applies to making a sacrifice personally if it will benefit an absent person larger than you.
Consider this quote from Gail Mancur: “Take care of yourself; don’t worry about others. Look out for yourself; the collective will take care of itself.” This philosophy can be found in many communities, including environmentalist and socialist groups.
This fallacy is often found in political debates but also appears in personal conversations. Many people use this fallacy to try to persuade another person to like an idea or agree with them. A person using the Greater Good Fallacy wants an individual to agree with them by thinking about what is best for the collective if they want the individual to think of something other than themselves.
The reason why the greater good is a logical fallacy is that there is no way to quantify that something is best for the collective, and even more so it is not possible to know what is best for everyone.
One way to identify the Greater Good Fallacy in a conversation or argument is by listening for words like ‘we’ or ‘everyone’ or phrases such as ‘the greatest good for the greatest number.’ These words and phrases are being used to try to persuade someone into thinking about what is good for the collective instead of thinking only of their own interests.
How the greater good fallacy was used for evil and control
In the book The Tyranny of Good Intentions, by Paul Craig Roberts, the author explains how it was used for evil and control. He explains how politicians and governments use it to convince voters to agree with them. People are told that voting for a certain person or bill will be what is best for everyone. They are led to believe that if they do not act in a certain way then society will decline.
The greatest example of such tyranny is under the fascist Nazi regime. Hitler and the Nazis convinced the German people that they would be better off under their rule. It was for the greater good of the German people to take control of certain lands and people. Hitler even went as far as to say that he was helping the Jews by moving them from Germany into a new country where they had no influence.
The word Greater Good is mentioned often in George Orwell’s novel 1984. This was a book that warned us of the potential dangers of the Greater Good. It demonstrates through Orwell’s writings the importance of a person’s personal freedom. In 1984, the government has so much global control that everyone must do what they are told or they will end up in the ‘dungeon’ or ‘Room 101.’
In this room, people were unpopular and outcasts. Only one man named Winston Smith refused to believe in the Great Party of Progress and Love for Humanity. He was accused of being a “thought criminal” because he did not obey the Party of Peaceful Love and Goodwill. Factories were working all of the time to make propaganda to convince the people of what they should do. They were told that their being part of the Party was for the greater good, but it really wasn’t.
Nazi leaders in Germany and Italy also used this phrase for their actions against their enemies. They said that things would be done for “the Greater Good.” This was a manipulative phrase that showed they did not care about any individual’s personal belief or freedom.
How do you argue against someone using the greater good fallacy?
1. Acknowledge the Greater Good Fallacy.
Show them that it is indeed a logical fallacy in reasoning. That the greater good is used as an argument should show people they are being argued with. The person using the fallacy will have a more difficult time countering this since they have used a faulty argument on one side of the argument.
2. Point out opposing views on the greater good and show that there are different ways to look at the issue.
This is equivalent to challenging an opponent in power to consider their actions from other perspectives as well, not just their own perspective alone. In George Orwell’s book 1984, this is the goal of the Party: to control everyone’s perspective. If someone uses the Greater Good Fallacy against you, try to show that you have a different perspective from them.
3. Show that sacrificing and doing things for the collective is not always convenient or even beneficial for individuals.
In fact, it can be abusive and harmful if an individual’s rights are taken away or violated. Use examples such as genocide, slavery, the Holocaust, and the use of nuclear weapons as ways to show how people can be wronged when they sacrifice for the collective. Talk about how people’s freedoms and rights are taken away when they do something that is not in their own best interest.
4. Use examples of harsh punishment to show that sacrificing for the collective is not always a good thing.
You can use examples such as unjust war crimes, poverty, homelessness, police brutality, and others things that are not in accordance with what is best for individual humans.
5. Also, note that society or the collective is a construct.
It is the individual that is the one defining the society or collective. In other words, society is not the same as a person. This should show that people are free to make choices as individuals can make choices that do not affect society as a whole.
6. Ask them why they believe that your individual choice will affect society?
This should show them that you are not being argued with but instead having a real conversation in which they may discover that their reasoning is flawed. Then interrogate with follow up questions about how do they know this, what is this supported by.
7. They are in fact the selfish ones.
Lead them to understand that while they think the individual is acting from a place of selfishness that ironically it is in fact them who are the ones acting in a self-centred manner by using the collective as a method of justification for their own wants. Using the collective in essence as to project their own wants onto others that don’t want to act in accordance with their wants.
8. Everyone deserves their own choice.
Lead them to understand that the individual deserves a choice in what they do and allowing them to make their own decisions does not mean that everyone will think alike. You can also suggest to them that it is the government’s job to enforce laws on those who break the law not have a say of what personal actions are popular or unpopular.
9. Arguing for power, not action.
Suggest to them that they are in fact arguing for control and power over others and not freedom or liberty as they would have people believe. Instead, they are arguing for the right to dictate to others what is best for them.
10. What if everyone is being selfish?
Show that if everyone made choices from a place of selfishness, then no one would get anything is done or nothing accomplished at all in life and no one would ever move forward as a collective. This too shows that people need an understanding of how to think and act in a way that benefits the collective without violating personal freedoms or rights.
11. It is in fact the individual in the end that empowers the collective.
The individual is what enables ideas and actions to be carried out as well. This can be seen in the ability for people to have a home, family, and a job. If they are all taken away, then the collective (or their government) is disempowered as well.
Are there any other fallacies that affect this type of argument?
- Special Pleading: This fallacy is when one assumes that because their position is special that it will not be challenged or questioned. It also assumes that the position is a special one but is actually not. This is an invalid argument and will only lead someone to believe their position has truth and validity.
- Slippery Slope: This helps to show that the argument is based on fear and being against something (or somebody). It shows that the person used the terms ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ as a scare tactic while not really understanding what they were actually talking about. As a result, the argument does not make sense and cannot be challenged.
- Red Herring: This fallacy is when you lead someone into an argument or conversation by mentioning a separate issue that is not important to the main topic at hand. This usage is typically used to distract from the real issue while ignoring it as well as trying to have people argue about something you want them to argue about instead of what they were arguing originally about.
- Ad Hominem: This fallacy is when you attack a person’s character instead of an argument set forth. It is used as a way to ignore what they are arguing and to discredit them as well or point out that there are flaws in the character of the person who is arguing with you.
- Appeal to authority: Most people will use appeals to authority to justify their greater good fallacy. An example of this is them is a particular expert or government is better than the knows better. This is used as a way to argue that their way of thinking is right and better which causes them to believe it’s right and better.
The fallacy is a kind of error in the logic used or assumed by arguments. A fallacy can be used as a means to get someone to support something or against something based on the lack of understanding of how the argument actually works. These can also be used offensively by those who do not understand how it works and are just simply attacking the person who is making the argument because they disagree with them.
In summary, the greater good fallacy is preposterous in its usage as it assumes the individual is doing something or making a choice out of selfishness. This assumption has been shown to be false as well as the claim that this line of thinking makes people more selfless in their actions. Instead, it actually does the opposite and encourages people to act from a place of selfishness because they are told that is what they should do and will be rewarded for it.
To debate someone on the greater good fallacy you need to first recognize that the individual is not making a choice based on selfishness or self-interest but because they want to. You also need to be able to show them that it is in fact them who is being selfish and not wanting everything for themselves. You then must show them that their reasons are flawed and lead them to understand that their reasoning really has nothing to do with others at all. Instead, it does have everything to do with them.
The greater good fallacy can also be said to be a form of special pleading because of the assumption that because it is the ‘case’, then it is a special case. The problem with this is that if the argument were really valid, then it would show its use in other arguments as well and this has not been shown to be true. This line of thinking is also fallacious as well and shows a lack of understanding of how logic works when using it to support arguments not only against but also for something.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article on the greater good fallacy and how to beat it in your next debate. Remember, it is not the individual that is selfish but rather the social order as a whole. The issue of selfishness has nothing to do with selfishness and everything to do with understanding personal freedoms and rights that are provided to us by a higher power.